During the conversations about what to measure in philanthropy, a dominate theme has been that no universal metric will ever work (although some participants do not agree). This idea is validated by measurement practices in the for-profit markets where different metrics are believed to be important for different companies.
So how should an individual nonprofit think about measurement?
I got the following email from a reader recently:
Your blog. I read it every day. It’s great. But frustrating.
How do WE measure success? We’re trying to implement a program like [deleted to protect privacy]. It will be difficult to quantify success, especially short term. We could have 5 students and really change their lives now–or maybe not be able to point to the impact for years. We could have 50 students and not connect at all. When we discuss this among the staff and with well-meaning supporters, everyone says to just make something up. That really grates on me. And we can’t be the only program with the same problem.
This was my answer:
For a minute, don’t think about numbers. Just tell me what you think your organization would look like in five years if it were successful. For instance, if you raised and spent $1 million and during that 5 years worked with 5 students. Would that be a success? What about 500 students? Or 5,000? If you had a choice between working with 500 students and feeling like you exposed them all to music, but didn’t really change their lives would that be better or worse than working with just 5 students and feeling that you totally changed all of their lives for the better?
After you have an idea of what success would look like, then we can think about ways to measure it.